Monday, May 16, 2005

A long, scary, tail

It must be spring, the Annoying Tuneless Flutist is playing outside Whole Foods again.

I was reading the latest Wired and came accross Daniel Pink's interview of Thomas Friedman, about how the world is flattening out. Hearing Friedman say it, hearing Pink say it (I finally got my copy of A Whole New Mind), it's starting to stick in my head. Freidman has an interesting riff about how global systems can be thought of as supply chains. Even Al Qaeda can be thought of this way:

"What is al Qaeda? It's an open source religious political movement that works off the global supply chain. That's what we're up against in Iraq. We're up against a suicide supply chain. You take one bomber and deploy him in Baghdad, and another is manufactured in Riyadh the next day. It's exactly like when you take the toy off the shelf at Wal-Mart and another is made in Shen Zhen the next day."

Last Thursday, while I was in New Jersey, Chris Anderson of Wired spoke at IDEO about the Long Tail, a similar concept of the consequences of globalization. Long Tail thinking basically says that with global connectivity, the effect of all the fringes and niches may well be greater than the mainstream -i.e. the area under the long tail of the popularity curve = the area under the mainstream part of it.

Combining these global constructs leads to scary possibilities when it comes to fringes and niches that espouse violence and general badness. It used to be that a fringe leader needed to build themselves a compound in texas or fly followers to South America to achieve critical mass. But with the power of global connectedness, the supply chain feeding these niches is essentially inexhaustible, globally decentralized, and equivalent in power to their enemy, the mainstream. That mainstream includes simpletons like myself, which makes me nervous.

Of course, the web being the resource that it is, the first google hit for "al qaeda long tail" is John Robb of Global Guerrillas, who has pondered the dark side of the long tail long before me. A teaser:

"The long tail has applicability to my work here on Global Guerrillas. Traditionally, warfare (the ability to change society through violence) has been limited to nation-states (except in rare cases). States had a monopoly on violence. The result was a limited, truncated distribution of violence (a power law). That monopoly is on the skids due to three trends."

One more blog to pore thru. I hope Osama's not doing the same.


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